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Brown administration bars reporter from filming public meeting on tunnels
by Dan Bacher
Friday Sep 6th, 2013 8:29 PM
"The video demonstrates extreme steps the Brown Administration is taking to avoid accountability for their lack of answers to simple questions from residents whose farms, homes and communities would be harmed by this boondoggle," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. "First, they confiscate our opposition signs, then they bar the media from reporting on public meetings; their next step is condemning and seizing our land to benefit a few mega-growers."

The peripheral tunnels will divert a large portion of the flow of the Sacramento River for use by corporate agribusiness and oil companies. Photo of Sacramento River in the city of Sacramento by Dan Bacher.
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Brown administration bars reporter from filming public meeting on tunnels

by Dan Bacher

On March 2, 2012, California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird and Deputy Secretary of Interior David Hayes committed themselves to making sure that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels was an “open and transparent" process.

“Our agencies are taking actions to ensure a fair, open and transparent process, and the opportunity for input by all interested parties in the development of this plan to address the future of California’s Bay Delta and water supply,” they wrote in a letter to then State Senator Michael J. Rubio, who in February resigned from office in order to take a “government affairs” position at Chevron. (http://baydeltaconservationplan.com/Libraries/Dynamic_Document_Library/Resources_Agency_and_DOI_Letter_to_Legislature-BDCP_MOA_3-2-12.sflb.ashx)

Yet, the Brown and Obama administrations have gone in the exact opposite direction from the one they committed to on that date, going so far as to bar members of the news media from recording a public meeting to answer Delta residents’ questions and concerns about the controversial project to build twin peripheral tunnels.

Restore the Delta on Friday released a video shot by a business reporter who attended the BDCP "office hours" the Brown administration held at the Brentwood Library on September 3.

The "office hours" were public meetings advertised as an opportunity to get answers to Delta landowners’ concerns, according to Restore the Delta (RTD).

Central Valley Business Times reporter Gene Beley joined local residents at the Brentwood Library public meeting and was told by Department of Water Resources (DWR) personnel that no press was allowed, even though it was a public agency in a public setting.

Beley stayed and attempted to record the questions and answers in order to report them to the Delta business and landowners who comprise the publication’s audience.

If that interference with his First Amendment rights wasn’t bad enough, Nancy Vogel from the Public Affairs Office at the Department of Water Resources (DWR) even called Doug Caldwell, owner of Central Valley Business Times and complained about Beley.

“Hey, that's almost a badge of honor as good as the days of the Nixon Administration when he had certain press on his Hit List,” Beley quipped.

“I can’t recall a public relations agency person from any agency calling me to complain about a reporter,” said Caldwell. “When this happens, it usually indicates that a reporter is asking them tough questions that make them uncomfortable.”

Vogel, who was for many years a reporter at the Sacramento Bee and LA Times who covered water and environmental issues, responded, "Nobody representing DWR asked him to leave - we asked him to stop video taping." She said this was done after the residents complained about the video taping.

"This is a different type of public meeting - it's the type of meeting where residents come with their questions. We tried to make it clear that it is a venue for residents with questions for one-on-one conversations. We're hoping to encourage public participation and candid conversations and believe that video taping impedes this," said Vogel.

In response to the call to Doug Caldwell, she explained, "I called Doug to let know him know that somebody saying he was affiliated with the Central Valley Business Times was being disruptive and annoying at a public meeting."

Beley countered that he was doing his job as a reporter by filming the meeting.

"When state officials started this whole process, they said they would be transparent," said Beley. "My job as a reporter is to show what is happening. I believe that there is a major shift in the BDCP officials' method of dealing with the public in the Delta. I'm very critical that they aren't holding meetings in the evenings or on weekends when most people are available."

In response to Vogel's claim that he was being "annoying and disruptive," Beley said, "I was annoying to DWR people because they told me they didn't want me or other press there."

"I did have the permission of the four people whom I ended up filming for a mini-documentary. And when one resident yelled to me that she didn't want me to film her, I shut my camera down and started to leave. Then others yelled that they wanted press there because that's their only hope for stopping the tunnels."

He noted that the one woman who objected to his video taping came up later and apologized to him for yelling.

"She said this whole tunnel issue has gotten her so frustrated and high strung that she wasn't herself that day. I understand this is a very emotional thing for all residents in the Delta who are negatively impacted, who risk losing their homes and businesses," Beley emphasized.

RTD Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla criticized what she saw the heavy handed approach used to deny Beley his First Amendment rights, just as she was outraged by Caltrans' recent confiscation of signs opposing the tunnels from private property in the North Delta.

"The video demonstrates extreme steps the Brown Administration is taking to avoid accountability for their lack of answers to simple questions from residents whose farms, homes and communities would be harmed by this boondoggle," said Barrigan-Parrilla. "First, they confiscate our opposition signs, then they bar the media from reporting on public meetings; their next step is condemning and seizing our land to benefit a few mega-growers."

The video can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X75_29xUiGc.

Gene Beley's mini-documentary featuring interviews from people attending the Brentwood D.W.R. meeting, including a marina owner who said he has not been notified by any government official that his business is in jeopardy, plus a short video of Oakley City Council member Diane Burgis asking questions to the DWR, are available at: https://vimeo.com/home/myvideos

You will also find other videos from previous coverage of BDCP meetings there at the same address.

The Brown and Obama administrations are fast-tracking the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The tunnels will be used to export huge quantities of water to corporate agribusiness interests and oil companies seeking to expand fracking operations in Kern County and coastal areas.

The construction of the tunnels would not only hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon and steelhead, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, but would will imperil salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers. The Trinity is the only out of basin source of water for the federal Central Valley Project.

For more information, go to http://www.restorethedelta.org

The barring of a reporter from filming a public meeting is an obvious attempt by the Brown regime to censor Freedom of Speech, in my opinion. This incident occurs in the larger context of the war on the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech and the Constitution by the federal and state governments.

The draconian provisions of the Patriot Act, NDAA and other repressive laws, the federally-coordinated crackdown on the Occupy movement, the widespread NSA surveillance of personal emails, the IRS targeting of groups that disagree with the Obama administration, and other measures by the federal and state governments serve to criminalize dissent and repress our First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, neither the Brown or Obama administrations appear to have much respect for the First Amendment or other Constitutional Rights.

Note: This article was updated on Monday, September 8.